“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
The spiritual forces arrayed against us have three main characteristics: They are powerful. They are wicked. They are cunning.
First, they are powerful. Whether “principalities and powers” refer to different ranks of evil spirits in the hierarchy of hell we do not know, but both titles reference the power and authority they wield. They are also called “the world rulers of this present darkness.” Satan and his lieutenant’s have considerable power in this world. The devil offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus called the devil ‘the ruler of this world.’ John’s gospel says that “the whole world is in the power of the evil one’.”
Secondly, they are wicked. Power itself is neutral; it can be used well or it can be misused. Our spiritual enemies use their power four wickedness. They use their power to distort, deceive, and destroy. As we said above, they are the worldwide rulers of this present darkness. They hate the light of truth, and shrink from it. Darkness is their natural habitat, the darkness of falsehood and sin. They are also described as the spiritual hosts of wickedness which operate in the heavenly places, that is, in the sphere of invisible reality.
We are the agents of the kingdom of God on earth, and our adversaries are the agents of darkness on earth. As we engage and do battle with the spiritual forces of evil, we must understand that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They are ruthlessly malicious and do their evil work with deadly intent.
Thirdly, they are cunning. In verse 11 Paul speaks of standing against the “schemes” of the devil. The word for schemes is the Greek methodia, from which comes the English word “method.” Satan has a method, a strategy. He uses specific tactics. The devil seldom attacks openly, as he prefers strategies of deceit and distortion.
The Enemy especially likes to counterfeit. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor 11.13-15).
It is for this reason that the Lord warns us in Matthew 7 to “beware of false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” These are false teachers who disguise their true intentions by outwardly speaking and acting like Christians, but who inwardly are agents of darkness. These false teachers exist in every generation, including our generation today. Therefore, we must know the truth of God’s Word and be very discerning with respect to what teachers and preachers we listen to.
When Jesus says beware, he means exactly that. The enemy is powerful, wicked, and cunning. In our battle against him we must be aware, be on guard, and stand strong in faith.